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Book Reviews

Power of the Wheel: The Falun Gong Revolution

by Ian Adams,Riley Adams and Rocco Galati

Newspaper photos of Chinese police arresting practitioners of tai-chi-like exercises called Falun Gong have appeared frequently in the past year, yet little is known in the West about this decade-old phenomenon. In a refreshing attempt to go beyond the simplicity of mass media coverage, Power of the Wheel sheds light on the mystery of a movement which, despite seeing itself as neither religious nor political, has attracted as many as 100 million followers and been labelled by Communist authorities as the single greatest threat to their increasingly tenuous hold on power.

Anyone who was intrigued by their first exposure to Taoism or Buddhism in a world religions high school class will immediately be drawn into this story. The exploration of Falun Gong’s place in the religious pantheon of Chinese history is a fascinating one, and the probing of the movement’s apparent contradictions is presented judiciously. Similarly, the balanced presentation of founder and self-appointed leader Li Hongzhi allows the reader to decide where Li sits on a personality spectrum that runs from cult leader to enlightened soul.

Stylistically, though, the book is an odd hybrid, reading sometimes like an introductory religion primer, at others like a cautious document that has been over-screened for potentially libelous statements (one of the authors is a lawyer). Its tone tends toward the condescending, frequently employing phrases such as “Let’s review the facts…” or telling readers that “we must examine” a particular statement.

The book also ends rather abruptly, almost as if a concluding chapter got chopped off. While readers may be left with the impression that the parts here are greater than the whole, the work is nonetheless a necessary inquiry into a force which may yet shake loose the foundations of the most populated country on the planet.